Microsoft Surface Tablet Must Stimulate New Health Care App Development

Microsoft's introduction of the Surface tablet brings possibilities for applications in health care, but the development of native clinical applications will be important, according to industry experts.

The Microsoft Surface brand already has a history in health care as a tabletop PC. But while the introduction of a new family of Microsoft tablets offers new possibilities for clinical use, software vendors will need to bring new innovation to clinical app development.

Perhaps the 10.6-inch ClearType HD display, an increase over the 9.7-inch screen of the Apple iPad, will provide a decent image size for telehealth sessions. Furthermore, the built-in kickstand could allow the Surface to be held upright during patient consultations.

Bluetooth and WiFi capabilities are essential for remote-health monitoring, and the unit's wireless capabilities have yet to be announced.

Microsoft had no further comment on the Surface's potential in the health care industry beyond the company's announcement issued June 18.

The Surface will come in two models: one running an ARM processor along with Windows RT (the version of the Microsoft OS for ARM devices) and the other a third-generation Intel Core CPU running Windows 8 Pro. Microsoft will release the Windows RT version when Windows 8 ships in the fall, followed by the Windows 8 Pro model about 90 days later.

However, the introduction of the Surface tablet this fall is unlikely to shake the popularity of the Apple iPad in health care, according to industry insiders.

"The Apple iPad creates the best experience within the tablet space, so right now, we don't have plans on developing for the Microsoft Surface tablet," said Daniel Kivatinos, chief operating officer and co-founder of Drchrono, which offers electronic health record (EHR) and check-in applications for the iPad.

"I believe Microsoft will cede the health care sector to Apple," said John Moore, an analyst at Chilmark Research. He noted the lack of native mobile apps for mobile devices running a Microsoft OS.

With their strong influence over IT departments in health care, doctors are likely to stick with the iPad, Moore predicted.

"Pricing for Surface has not been released," Moore noted. "Will pricing be attractive enough for users to make the switch? Unlikely."

It remains to be seen how EHR applications for the iPad will perform in Surface's Windows 8 environment.

The introduction of the new Microsoft tablet is a signal to health care IT and vendors to create more innovative clinical applications for the tablet space, according to Gregg Malkary, managing director of Spyglass Consulting Group.

"Clearly Microsoft is putting out an enterprise-class tablet with its own application ecosystem to support computing," Malkary told eWEEK. "Physicians have already told hospital IT they want a tablet like the iPad or they want a tablet-like device for interacting with patients and colleagues. This actually puts hospital IT and the vendors on notice that they need to start innovating."

Apple's tablet lacks the software innovation needed in the health care industry, according to the Jan. 31 report "Point of Care Computing for Physicians 2012," by Spyglass.

The Surface will have work to do to catch up to the iPad in health care, according to Monique Levy, vice president of research at Manhattan Research.

€œThrough 2013, we expect the iPad to continue to lead [in health care] by a large margin," Levy told eWEEK in an email. "Other devices like the Surface may gain some traction as institutions look to integrate devices with [EHRs] and other back-end systems if these devices offer enterprise advantages over the iPad."

Will the Surface present advantages for enterprises over the iPad? It's too early to say, Levy noted.

"If it makes sense to iterate our mobile app strategy to operate on Windows RT or Windows 8 Pro, then we would certainly consider it," said Ryan Howard, CEO of EHR vendor Practice Fusion, in an email.

"Providers will expect technology that truly supports their clinical workflow," Howard added.

Scheduling, viewing secure messages and refilling prescriptions are tasks suitable for tablets such as the iPad and Surface, he suggested.

Monitoring vital signs such as weight and blood glucose as well as tracking medication compliance are tasks moving to mobile devices, Howard noted.

Browser-based applications like Practice Fusion's that run on Windows will work on the Surface, according to Howard.